Afghan woman starts life — and cricket career — over in Fredericton | The Canadian News

Roya Samim had a good life in Afghanistan. 

In Kabul, she was a teacher with a big family, and she excelled at the sport she loved. She was a cricket star and had  just signed a contract to play for the newly created national women’s team.

But that was taken away last year after the Taliban took control and women were forbidden to play sports.

Samim and her family fled the country last September and settled in Fredericton. As she made a life for herself here, the chance to play cricket again seemed bleak.

Roya Samim is back to the sport she loves after fleeing her home country. (Colin McPhail/The Canadian News)

That’s where Cricket New Brunswick comes in.

The group is working hard to develop the women’s game in the province and ensure local athletes can compete at higher levels and even make the Canadian national team.

For Samim, it’s a chance at regaining what was stolen from her.

“I was a teacher, I was a cricket player, and I had lots of activities there,” Samim told Information Morning Saint John.  “And here I started from zero, so it’s a little bit challenging.

“I lost everything … but now I’m really happy to be here.” 

 English schoolmaster in Upper Canada

When she first arrived in Fredericton during the pandemic, Samim said, she had trouble finding teams to play. 

Often though a quintessentially English game, cricket is hugely popular in many countries in the world. It’s not as well known in Canada, although it might surprise some to know the sport actually dates back to the late 1700s-early 1800s in this country, according to the website of Cricket Canada.

“The roots of Canadian cricket spring mainly from the regions of Upper Canada and in particular from around the little town of York, now known as Toronto,” the website states.

“During the early years of the nineteenth century the game was encouraged in the town by George A. Barber, a young English schoolmaster. Today he is considered to be the father of Canadian cricket.”

According to the International Cricket Hall of Fame, “each team is made up of 11 players consisting of batters, bowlers and a wicket keeper.” The bats are wide and the balls have cork core encased in twine and leather, according to the hall’s website. 

New Brunswick team

Samim is now playing a part in developing women’s cricket in the province and has the support needed to make her way up the ranks. 

“She wanted to pursue her career here and Cricket New Brunswick is providing her that platform,” Cricket New Brunswick president Kapil Choudhary said.

“We will do whatever we can for her to succeed and any other woman who wants to play cricket.” 

On  Friday, Cricket New Brunswick hosted trials in Saint John to select the top female athletes to form a team and compete in Ontario. The thwack of the ball echoed in the Irving Oil Field House.

Choudhary said it would be the first time female players from Atlantic Canada could play in the tournament. 

The opportunity would allow players, including Samim, to get recognized by the national team. 

Cricket New Brunswick held trials to create a women’s team to compete in an upcoming tournament in Ontario. (Colin McPhail/The Canadian News)

Rey Blais of the Fredericton Cricket Club is developing a women’s team in the capital city. She said it’s been a challenge to find other teams to play against.

“We’ve been training three or four times a week all the way throughout winter … that means driving sometimes 10 kilometres in snow to get their training facility,” Blais said.

“So I think they really deserve the opportunity to show what they can do at a higher level, because a lot of the players on our team are very talented and they absolutely deserve those opportunities.”

Need for facility

Choudhary said New Brunswick is far behind other provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, for women’s  involvement in the sport. 

But Cricket New Brunswick is trying to change that. 

Choudhary said one of the main reasons cricket hasn’t grown in the province is a lack of proper fields and facilities. 

Cricket is popular right across the country and picking up interest among young people. A coach facilitator with the Ontario Schools Cricket Association watches as a student learns the game during the Toronto school’s spring Wellness Week. (Esteban Cuevas/CBC)

“I’m in talks with cities, New Brunswick’s premier, as well as our MPs … things are moving, but we still don’t have a proper cricket facility,” he said. 

He said a proper cricket field has a drainage system so it can stay dry even when it rains. 

Last summer was very wet in Saint John and there were only four weekends dry enough to play, he said. Cricket courts are bigger than most indoor facilities, because the game requires a radius of around 60 to 65 metres for play. 

‘We can shine’

Choudhary said Samim was one of several newcomers involved with the provincial team, eager to take their careers in the sport further. 

“You can see the exuberance in the players, this is the first time women are getting a chance to play cricket as well as going to Ontario,” said Choudhary. “That’s a big achievement for them as well as for my organization.”

Samim does not want to lose her professional abilities in the game she loves.

It’s hard to start over, not just in the sport but also in a new country, a new culture. And there are still family members living in Afghanistan

“I have my uncle there and my aunts … I don’t want to talk with them because it’s really, even when I talk with them, I cried because nothing is good … there.”

Finding a way to play cricket has helped Samim settle in, and she hopes she and some of her siblings, who also play the game, will eventually make the national team.

“If selected for the Canada team, I believe we can shine really good.”

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